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Bill Restoring Key Chicago Teachers Union Bargaining Rights Moving in Legislature

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Jesse Sharkey

Jesse Sharkey is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. He says lifting bargaining restrictions on the CTU would “make it easier for us to achieve some results.”

Bill Healy

A bill that would restore the Chicago Teachers Union’s power to bargain over big issues like class size, length of school day and outsourcing appears to be gaining traction.

This would likely make negotiations over the teachers contract, which expires this June, more contentious. Currently, the teachers union can only freely bargain about, and strike over, compensation-related issues.

The state Legislature severely limited the bargaining rights of Chicago teachers and staff more than 25 years ago. This was done when control of the school system was handed over to the mayor. At the time, lawmakers wanted to make it easier for the mayor to manage the school district and to prevent strikes, which were regularly taking place.

Last week, the Illinois House passed a bill lifting these bargaining restrictions with 73 members voting yes and 35 voting no. The “no” votes came from Republicans. In the Senate, Democrats hold a bigger majority. Similar bills have passed in the House previously but have stalled in the Senate.

But now, Senate President John Cullerton tells WBEZ it might be time to revisit these provisions, according to his spokesman John Patterson.

In addition, both candidates for Chicago’s mayor and Governor JB Pritzker are considered more CTU-friendly than Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Gov. Bruce Rauner, which could increase the chances of the bill making it to the governor’s desk.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said restoring these rights would be a major step forward for teachers. Currently, the union often makes demands over things like class size, but when it gets to the bargaining table, it has to skirt around them.

“We should be able to have those frank conversations at the table and that will make it easier for us to achieve some results,” Sharkey said.

One issue where CTU is looking to have more say-so is over the hiring of private companies to do school district work. If the union had been able to negotiate over outsourcing, he said, it may have been able to prevent the hiring of Aramark to take over custodial services at schools. Aramark has been blamed for leaving schools in filthy conditions.

Movement on this bargaining rights bills comes as a bill to move Chicago from an appointed school board to an elected school board is also making its way through the state Legislature. The appointed board was instituted in the mid-1990s as part of the Springfield package that moved Chicago to mayoral control. Both candidates running for Chicago mayor in the April 2 runoff support an elected school board. Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not.

Chicago Public Schools testified against the bargaining rights bill in the House, but did not respond Monday to questions seeking further comment.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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